The City Blocks That Are Home
`I HAVE traveled a good deal in Concord,'' wrote Thoreau. I have done the same in New York. The city contains 6,375 miles of laid-out streets. Many of them I have walked thousands of times. Consider these calculations. At the rate of 3 miles each day (minimum), or 1,095 miles a year, at age 52 I have walked 56,940 miles on the streets of New York. This mileage exceeds twice the circumference of the Earth. My expenditures on shoe leather are phenomenal!
My life has passed in a 32-block area of New York City. Born on 105th Street at Flower Fifth Avenue Hospital, I grew up at 98th and 96th Streets and now live on 73rd Street.
George F. Kennan, in his memoir, ``Sketches From a Life,'' writes: ``Life is too full in these times to be comprehensible. We know too many cities to be able to grow into any of them.... the quality of our impressions gives way to the quantity.''
Not for me. At times I feel like someone from the Middle Ages who, in the course of a lifetime, seldom leaves the confines of his village.
I identify with these words of Primo Levi, writing in his essay ``My House'': ``Certainly, after sixty-six years on Corso Re Umberto, I find it difficult to imagine what it would mean to live, not just in another country or city, but in another part of Turin.''
I LIVE on the north side of 73rd Street, to the east of Lexington Avenue. I have lived here since graduating from law school 27 years ago. Acclimated now to my block and building, I am making an effort to learn more about them.
There are eleven carriage houses on the block. They were built at the close of the 19th century for wealthy residents living in mansions on Fifth and Madison Avenues. The mansion owners wanted their private carriages and houses nearby, but not so close that the noise and smells of stables would bother them. They chose to place them east of Park Avenue, at the time an unfashionable area of the city. Over the years, the carriage houses became garages and then residences.
The building where I live was completed in 1923; my senior by fourteen years. It is a nine-story apartment building, with cellar and penthouse. The exterior walls are brick. On the street stands a metal-framed canvas canopy with the house number.
City water enters my building via a 4-inch main located below the street. (Also connected to the building from the street are electrical cables, telephone, wires, and a gas line.) The incoming water is piped to two booster pumps located on the cellar level and pumped to a wood water-storage tank with a capacity of 10,000 gallons on the roof. This capacity makes long morning showers a shameful but delightful luxury. (Not every house has a 10,000 gallon tank. Friends with whom I stay keep reminding me of this.)
Though I have lived in the building for over a quarter century, there are parts I have never seen. Like the boiler, which, according to the ominous report of an engineer, ``has outlived its lifetime expectancy.''
On the architect's floor plan, my fifth-floor apartment is described as consisting of ``3 Rooms l Bath 1 Master's 0 Servant's.''
My living room measures 12 ft. 8 in. by 18 ft. 4 in. It has two windows, a brick fireplace and built-in bookshelves. (``Me and my books, in the same apartment,'' wrote Flaubert, ``like a gherkin in its vinegar.'') The bedroom, with two windows, one of them overlooking brownstone gardens on 74th Street, measures 13 ft. by 13 ft.
The companionship of the street; the privacy of my apartment. A thousand memories link me to New York City and this small living space. Both are home.